His ultimate dream is to have his work displayed in a fine art museum. And this is an important point which will help you understand his goals and how he approaches his work. Pipe are also not his only form of artistic expression. He remains today a fine craft artist. An artist clearly annoyed with the need to also be a businessman because it strongly conflicts with his preferred way of freedom of expression without the interruption of the annoying side of reality. Having to pay the bills in order for him to create art is the biggest nuisance of all for him. Without the outlet of fine art creativity, it feels as if Maigurs would be at an end. He has such a large number of ideas weighing on his mind. He is an incredibly deep thinking artist.
Beyond the retailers, I also spoke to collectors about Maigurs. Two prominent pipe collectors, Dustin Babitzke and Mario Persico, collectively own more than 30 Maigurs Knets pipes. I asked both of them what it is about Maigurs that attracts them to his work. Mario mentioned what he finds appealing in both Maigurs Knets the person as well as his pipes: “The perfection of what he is trying to accomplish was instantly clear. He brings such a high level of integrity & discipline to each pipe he makes. If you speak to him even once, that is the first thing that jumps out at you. His understanding of air flow is also pretty incredible. I dont have a single Knets pipe that does not draw perfectly. I also think he is part of the renaissance of new carvers, coming from countries that have never been big players. Coming from this outsider perspective, they have chosen to take this profession as a craft and because of that outsider view, they come in and push the limits and they don’t accept the pipe as an average object.”
Dustin Babitzke’s strong relationship with Maigurs provides him an inside view to his shaping process. Dustin shared the following: “Each Knets shape is thought out on paper first, it is sketched over and over. Then he often makes a foam prototype of the pipe shape and cuts that prototype in half. By doing this Maigurs can observe that the air chamber and tobacco bowl line up perfectly and the draw will work for the smokability of the pipe. Only then does he choose a piece of briar whose grain will suit that shape and he begins to shape the pipe. Maigurs understands both engineering and art. His background demands that he merges both form and function. Each one of my Knets pipes smokes like a dream.”
Depending on who you talk to, there are a host of different opinions on the man. Whatever those opinions may be, none of us can deny that Maigurs Knets creates some of the most unique pipes on the market today. His approach is incredibly special. More over, for someone like him to waltz right into the hobby with less than 5 years of pipe making under his belt and for him to make such a quick impact as he has and doing so while absolutely holding firm & true to his artistic guns, is terribly impressive in my opinion and therefore he cannot be ignored. Pipe traditionalists should make no mistake about it, the world of pipes is changing and a fine craft art as well as general artistic approach, is steadily pushing it’s way in and people like Maigurs Knets are at the front of this small revolution. Maigurs balances both the very old ideas and the very new ideas and he does a very good job at it. If you have ever had an inkling to explore some unique and different direction for your pipes, Maigurs Knets may be the carver to talk to help you realize those ideas. I hope you enjoy learning about Maigurs Knets in detail in the below interview.
Maigurs Knets: I’ve lived here since 1990 so it will be 22 years shortly.
David M: What impact did your time as well as art education in Latvia have on you & on how you approach your work today?
Maigurs Knets: If there is something left, then it is only the world of art that I experienced in Latvia, this is one thing which never fades away. It’s very uniquely sentimental by nature for me, it’s irreplaceable. It was a difficult time for me in Latvia because we lived under soviet occupation at that time and that difficulty in life gets translated into the way I make pipes, it’s the Latvian style. I measure 7 times and cut once. If I do something and feel no pain, then something is wrong, that is art the Latvian way.
Maigurs Knets: Early in Art College I was all into Rembrandt and the Dutch masters. I did a lot of painting in College. Something like 8 hours a week for 4 years. Since living in America I have not found the time to return to that level of painting that I did but I still have a dream to try once again soon, just for sake of personal joy. In the mid nineties I fell in love with Maxwell Parish and Alphonse Mucha.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: It happened completely by accident, I actually should not even be involved in pipes at all. I’ve known Alex Florov since 1993, I consider him a friend and we have always worked close to each other. The model maker community in Chicago area is small so no matter where you go, there is always a big chance to run in to each other time and time again. So, Alex and I have been friends and once in 2006, Alex appeared in my shop with one of his pipes proudly in his hand and honestly at that time, I did not care to so much about pipes because I was so deeply involved in my scale car models using exotic hardwoods of the world but somehow for the simple sake of friendly competition with Alex, I also made one and off it went.
David M: An unplanned & chance circumstance placed you in a position to express your fine craft art knowledge in pipes. How lucky for us. What were you thinking while you were making that first pipe?
Maigurs Knets: My thought was very simple, I was thinking that I wanted to kick my friend Alex’s butt! [laughs] Here was a guy who was always in my face, always trying to show me up and I was thinking, well, let’s see what I can do. It was a friendly fire thing and that is how I got sucked into it. You also can’t forget that since my country Latvia was under Soviet occupation for many years, there is a lot of bad historical blood between us, kind of like the Jews & Palestinians. Obviously in the present time and here in American we do not have that problem at all anymore and like I said, Alex and I are friends and I respect him immensely. In the friendly rivalry environment though and everybody should completely understand my friendly rivalry meaning here and not overreact. I was thinking back to my time in Latvia, we were under a soviet occupation and I was thinking that those soviets were always so…let’s use the word annoying back then [laughs] so in my mind, it was one nation against another and Latvia wanted to show the Russians that we were better.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: I never learned from anybody. I honestly have no joy in replicating other people’s work. Other people’s art and my being exposed to it will only impact my own art negatively. I try and protect myself in that way as best as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely took the time and learned all the details about how to make sure that my pipes smoke good. Every single engineering tolerance has been evaluated by me in extremely great detail. All of the proper engineering in pipes has been fully absorbed. As for the shaping element however and this is what I call the ‘art’, I want to be able to create my own ideas and speak through my own voice as much as possible. This is what gives me pure joy, nothing else. To copy someone’s work is not fun for me. I am not challenged by that act and I literally feel bad about myself when I even spend some time in that idea.
The main reason I stay away from other’s work is because as soon as I see someone else’s craft, that vision that I get in my mind will immediately change the way I see things. I don’t want to lose the uniqueness of myself. It is purely a protection mechanism and not meant to give offense to other pipe maker’s work. I have more personal background in fine art than pipes, so therefore since I have been simmering in all my ideas going all the way back to Art College, when I spend too much time with someone else’s image, it changes my uniqueness which is deeply connected to my own art history. Whenever I do see something and obviously some of it is inevitable, I absolutely want it to leave my brain as quickly as possible. Because somewhere along the line I feel like it will damage my own vision.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: No, not for me. Some people’s style is to do exactly that. The idea is to take someone else’s work and come up with a brand new way to express that idea. I am happy for the people that do that but it is not for me. For me, I am unable to see the difference between this pipe or that pipe when I see this happening. Some people’s entire style is like this, a gathering and combination of 10 or 20 different people’s ideas over a long period of time. I understand that the pipe hobby is built like this so I do not fault anyone for using this process but for me, I choose to approach it differently. I guess I see it as why should I look at other people’s work if I have 10,000 ideas of my own?
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: I would start off by telling my students that pipe shape absolutely does not matter, it only matters after you understand the main thing, that the pipe has to smoke properly. If the pipe does not smoke properly, the shape you have made is absolutely useless. This is where some of the old traditions of pipe making definitely make their way into my shop. To make the pipe smoke in the best and most precise way possible, you have to stick to the old fashioned techniques of the chamber, you can’t work around it too much, a ¼” thickness is required and is industry standard. Drilling is the second most important thing, it is paramount, it actually could be the most important thing. How precise the air-hole is drilled, how it enters the stem and how precise the stem is opened up at the end.
How the stem is opened at the end will usually determine how well the tobacco smokes. It will control the tobacco burn rate. Some people want fancy thin stems but then they run into problems with how to open it correctly. Smoke cannot have any resistance at all in that area. It is very hard to control how the tobacco burns in the chamber. That is how I would start my pipe making class, by focusing on engineering first. I would not even begin the conversation about shapes. Start off by getting your reputation so that people say your pipes smoke well. I see a lot of people ignore this area and they want to first break all the shape rules and make mortise and tenon breaks so radical that the air breaks so much that the pipe doesn’t smoke properly. It will all honestly be over if they continue to approach it like that and then there is really no point. Wall thickness and the precision of drilling, those are the most important areas.
Then of course, to some extent and to help them start off, I would tell my students to learn shapes by copying some first. We had to learn the background of all Classical art when I was in Latvia. We had to learn the entire back-bone first. We were always told to start off by copying. I guess that is normal to an extent. Without that training in Latvia, I would have no idea what to do right now. I had to obtain all those basic elements of knowledge to begin my own exploration of art in pipes.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: Absolutely yes, if there would be no sandblasting I would not be making pipes. Some pipes don’t look nice when they are smooth but they would be absolutely fantastic under the blast. I have started to sandblast all my fancy exotic burls. That has been incredibly interesting. I have even started to sandblast my American Black Ash burl and the most unbelievable ripples have come out, 10x more beautiful than briar.I am also starting to blast some Brazilian Walnut and seeing how it looks on stems and people will start to see some of that work in the coming weeks.
Normal briar is also a wood that always has a lot of natural damage. I lose at least 4 blocks out of 10. I can spend a whole day shaping and drilling and suddenly I need to throw out a whole day’s work because of a sandpit. It’s not just a $50 block that I am throwing away, that part I am okay with, it’s the whole day’s job that I am throwing away, that drives me nuts. A pipe with no sand-pits, maybe 1or 2 out of 10. It truly is a luxury item that piece of briar. So at least 50% of them have to be blasted.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: What really matters to me is solitude and tranquility. Believe it or not I only listen to instrumental music. When I am carving I don’t want to hear lyrics, I stay away from anything that alters my thought when I am carving a pipe. If I was listening to lyrics, the words the people would be saying would get into my head and take me away. If that happened, even for a brief moment, I would lose my focus from the art I am making. Solitude and tranquility, when I achieve it, it is absolutely perfect, I love it. That is how I make all my pipes.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: I have always wanted to make my and my thing only. I have never understood why so many people, when they are ready to go on their own and they have learned the basic’s, why they continue to always copy other people’s work. I understand that part of our business requires that we do this but whenever I have the chance to do something different, I must find a way to express my own ideas. You have to understand that I come from a fine art background and from this perspective, any slight touch of someone else’s work would destroy all the artist’s uniqueness immediately. If we all did this all the time, we would have nothing new, only everything copied and old. So whenever I can and as often as I can, I try to do my own thing. I still make pipe shapes for any customer who requests one and I always will but when I am experimenting and exploring and creating, I want to have one voice in the room, my own. This is why I try to limit the influence of other pipe makers work.
I do have to say that one of my favorite pipe makers is Michael Parks. I love his work. Somehow I feel like he and I are similar in how we approach things. His designs are clean and intelligent and the lines he produces are beautiful.
Maigurs Knets: Nature is perfect and I like perfect things. In my belief system I believe that the way God spoke, at that moment he created all the forms and all the proportions. Everything come out as clear information on the subatomic particles level and was then shaped into atoms and molecules and cells. What he did was perfect and I have nothing to add to that. Changing anything within that frame of mind, would destroy the natural order. A lot of destructive weirdness occurs as soon one starts to mess around with perfect shapes, forms and proportions and I have no inclination to add anything to that mess. I take what I can find in Gods garden (nature) and then I make my own thing.
– Maigurs Knets
Maigurs Knets: I have decided that I want to be a fine craft artist who also makes fine craft high quality art pipes. That is only way I feel comfortable making pipes. For that purpose I will likely cut down my production to 1 or 2 pipes a week. The side effect however will be much better, much higher quality and even finer crafted pipes. I draw my main inspiration for this new direction from furniture makers of Art Nouveau style from 100 years ago. People like Majorelle and Galle. It is sad that these artists never made any Art Nouveau pipes the way they worked on furniture and glass and bronze, so we have no reference to that but this is my new direction which I will explore and I will show my new reorganized style early next year. It is already being planned and worked on and I am very excited to show it to the pipe world. Will the people like or not? That is still to be determined.
Maigurs Knets: My biggest disappointment in pipes was when I finally realized that pipes are more about grains and how the grain looks than the shape. Grain is the major focus in the industry, it’s not about the shape at all. I understand why people like grains and I myself make my pipes with beautiful grain as well as new forms of grain expression, but ultimately, my main interest is in shapes. This next part I say jokingly but it is true, when people show me their pipes and they start the discussion by highlighting the beautiful grain on their pipe, I can’t help but giggle and think to myself these several questions. I think…You never planted the tree, you never watered it, you never risked your life to collect it and you never risked your fingers to cut it. So why is the grain so important to you if it had nothing to do with you? [laughs] That is just my philosophical comedian mind talking. Obviously a lot of my pipes focus on accentuating and emphasizing a good grain but I simply understand that the grain has nothing to do with me. I am more of a wood worker so for me, it’s personally all about shape. If I cannot make something look different, I do not want to do it all.
Maigurs Knets: One has to be careful here, it can’t become too thin that there is no material feel to it anymore. The most challenging thing is to make lines which do not have a point of reference, they can’t be measured. The most difficult thing is to convert general vision in my mind into a three dimensional model. I have always been thinking about why it’s so difficult to convert vision I have inside. Mainly it’s because of the less dimensions surrounding the vision, there are many more than just 3 dimensions. Now I know that in macro scale man may as well be finite but in micro scale he is infinite. So images which do come through are more than 3 dimensional and to convert that in lesser form is very, very difficult indeed.
Maigurs Knets: Amboyna burl comes from my passion for woodworking. It is the rarest and most expensive burl. I generally don’t like the burl on it’s own, I do like it when I combine it with sap wood, creating a layer of it which seems to grow around the burl itself. I truly enjoy working with these accent woods because it allows my fine craft side to come out more.
Maigurs Knets: I’m not a phone man, an e-mail is the best way to contact me. Just let me know what you want and we will go from there.
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